Apple's LTE policy creating carrier haves, have-nots

Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) alleged policy of restricting LTE network support in its iPhone 5 continues to frustrate international operators that cannot get the vendor to include support for their LTE networks in the device. Yet one quite small domestic U.S. operator will launch the device this week, along with full LTE support for its rural operation.

Norway's Telenor is the latest operator to complain about Apple's LTE support policy. Berit Svendsen, CEO at Telenor Norway, told telecoms.com that Apple's iPhone 5 will not operate on the operator's 1800 MHz LTE network in the northern district of Tromso, even though the device supports LTE on the same band in the United Kingdom and Germany.

"We are still waiting for Apple to make some small changes to the iOS so that the phone works on our 1800 MHz frequency up in Tromso," said Svendsen, adding that Telenor has been seeking the support for some six months.

The iPhone 5 also does not support LTE in the 2.6 GHz band, which is used by Telenor for LTE in the rest of Norway. Telenor does sell the iPhone 5 but must market it as a 3G device in Norway.

Apple allegedly insists mobile operators submit to its own independent testing of their LTE networks' performance before it will enable LTE functionality for iPhone 5 devices operating on their network.

Tajikistan's leading operator, Babilon-Mobile and Switzerland's Swisscom have both complained in recent months that Apple would not support LTE in iPhone 5 devices used on their networks. Babilon refarmed its 900 MHz and 1800 MHz spectrum and lit up LTE service in October 2012. Swisscom, Switzerland's largest telco, launched LTE at the end of November 2012 in the 800, 1800 and 2600 MHz bands.

Meanwhile, diminutive U.S. operator Strata Networks, a rural LTE partner of Verizon Wireless, is set to begin offering the LTE-enabled iPhone 5 soon at all Strata stores in Utah, Colorado and Wyoming. A Strata representative confirmed to Telecompetitor that the iPhone 5 model the carrier will begin offering on March 15 supports LTE on its network.

Another Verizon rural LTE partner, Bluegrass Cellular, began carrying the iPhone 5 in November 2012. Barry Nothstine, vice president of sales and marketing for Bluegrass, told FierceBroadbandWireless, "Our iPhone 5 model does support 4G/LTE."

Verizon's rural LTE partners are building networks on Upper 700 MHz C-Block spectrum that they lease from Verizon. The iPhone 5 devices Verizon offers for its LTE networks come equipped with unique software not available to the rural partners. Nonetheless, given the volume sales of the iPhone 5 generated by Verizon, it is apparently not too difficult for the operator's carrier partners to get their hands on the same types of device it sells with LTE support.

That contrasts with the experience of small operators holding licenses for Lower 700 MHz A-Block spectrum, which has two band classes that are not interoperable. Smaller carriers bought licenses in Band Class 12, a band not held by large operators. The smaller carriers argue that without mandated interoperability across Lower 700 MHz A-Block Band Class 12 and Band Class 17--the latter is held by AT&T (NYSE:T)--device makers will cater to the needs of larger operators AT&T and Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ). The FCC agreed in March 2012 to look into the issue but has so far taken no action to change the status quo.

For more:
- see this Strata release
- see this telecoms.com article
- see this Telecompetitor article

Related articles:
Apple extends LTE approval to 36 more operators
Apple still restricting iPhone 5 to approved LTE networks
Apple: No LTE-enabled iPhone 5 for carriers till we say so
Analysts: Apple's iPhone 5 leaves out many European LTE operators
iPhone 5: Even if you never heard of LTE before, you will now
Verizon, AT&T and Sprint each get LTE iPhone 5

Article updated on March 11, 2013, to include new information from Bluegrass Cellular.

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